The Black Country by Alex Grecian (Penguin, May 2013)-In The Black Country, we find our intrepid London inspectors, Walter Day and Nevil Hammersmith in the Village of Blackhampton in March of 1890, along with Dr. Kingsley, in order to help locate three missing members of a family: mother, father, and young son. The town seems welcoming enough, as does the town’s only police officer, Constable Grimes, although he’s eager to show these two detectives that he’s a competent inspector. The discovery of an eyeball by a young girl has sent the investigation into high gear, but is the eyeball human and did it indeed come from one of the missing family? The remaining three children are certainly keeping secrets, but it’s not immediately clear just what it is that they know about the disappearances (they definitely know something, though.)
It’s pretty obvious from the beginning that this will not be an easy investigation. There’s a mysterious illness that seems to have taken over the town, and the innkeeper, whose daughter found the eyeball, is well meaning but superstitious. Day is constantly worried about his pregnant wife back in London, but his dogged nature won’t allow him to not follow through on this investigation, and luckily, Hammersmith is equally as stubborn. So, it’s still bitterly cold in Blackhampton, there’s illness, the secrets are piling up, and it seems that every time they make headway, something happens to halt their progress. All in a day’s work for Day and Hammersmith, however.
The Yard, the first book in this series, was superb, and when that happens, I’m always worried as to whether the second book will be just as good. No worries on that account, though! Not only do we get the pleasure of Day and Hammersmith’s company, but the good hearted yet mildly cranky Dr. Kingsley, along with his assistant, the simple and gentle giant, Henry Mayhew, is always a delight. They’ll have help from the town’s schoolteacher, Jessica, and even from a mysterious Scotsman named Calvin Campbell that seems to be very invested in finding the family, especially the little boy, but for reasons that aren’t immediately clear. What makes this series so good is not only do you get a fascinating mystery, but horror elements are woven in to fantastic effect, and there’s a decidedly creepy vibe throughout the story that this remote village does nothing to dispel. Hammersmith is especially sensitive to this mining town’s dubious charms, considering his past, and the sinking houses, grit and all around stoicism of the town only serve to enhance the spooky vibe of the novel. Calvin Campbell’s tragic story is something to keep an eye out for and there were moments that moved me to tears. I cried during The Yard as well as this one, and I fully expect to cry at least once while reading the next installment, which can’t come soon enough. This series is a must for mystery and historical lovers and the flawless pacing and eye for detail only adds to its rich and tense atmosphere.